Saturday, August 2, 2014

Season of abundance

It's been a pretty good season so far. I think I bit off more than I could chew with the amount of space I chose to garden this year. I started a small CSA here and so expanded my garden. I also purchased a couple of tractor implements to make it possible to do agriculture on a larger scale out on our ag land. Before this season, most of my gardening was done on smaller hand-tended plots. More and more though I have been finding that doing things by hand is very time consuming. As much as I like the idea of simplicity, and as much as I dislike what conventional and large scale agriculture have done to our valuable agricultural lands, I cannot compete with the scale of fossil fueled agriculture by doing things by hand. Humanity gave that up by and large thousands of years ago, so it's not surprising it couldn't compete today. Hand gardening might be fine for the hobbyist who wants to grow a few supplemental veggies during the season, but if you are trying to sell your stuff or grow most of the food you eat, you are basically just wasting your time because it is so much less efficient. I've kind of known this and had never planned to try to make money selling vegetables, but here I find myself, at least partially trying to scrape a living doing something I love.

Onions growing between rows of grapes

There is virtually no market to speak of around Dancing Rabbit. We live on an island of awareness in a sea of people who don't understand the value of what we have to offer. Considering that we want to reduce our impact, it seems a little in error that we located the ecovillage so far from people who would be truly interested in and supportive of what we are doing here. We'd have to travel pretty far to get any products we produce to a market that appreciates them. This means extra fuel in transporting them. And for that matter, people have to travel pretty far to visit and see what we are doing. But this is the situation we have to overcome or accept. There are other reasons this location was chosen for DR.

Butternut and Buttercup squash growing in the vineyard

The market at DR is small, but I hope that it will continue to grow. It's likely that with a couple hundred people living here and supportive of farmers growing fresh organic produce and staple crops, there would be a pretty good living for a few people in agriculture. That's what keeps me doing this when I'm not really making much money—the goal of producing more of our own food locally--which I feel is one of the most fundamental acts of sustainable living.

But there is no doubt in my mind after experimenting with tractor scale farming this year that we could produce much of our own food here at DR. It will cost a bit in equipment and soil improvement up front, but that's the great thing about organic farming—if you keep doing it right, your land becomes more productive year after year. With conventional agriculture your land washes away year after year and remains the same dead growth medium that you started with the previous season.

By simply incorporating some composted manure and some raw manure, cow and horse, respectively, and a few other amendments like lime and wood ash, I've turned what was thin nutrient-poor soil into something that can grow abundant vegetables. The soil isn't recovered from the state conventional ag left it in, but it is on its way. I experimented with amending a few beds this year to make use of the empty space between the rows of vines in my vineyard. Most vineyards wouldn't think of multipurpose land use in a vineyard because the grapes provide sufficient income and using the space might make tending the grapes less convenient. I have to supplement my income though in the meantime while waiting for the grapes to produce and I still have doubts about the potential of our land and climate for organic grapes. It's certain that we can grow many types of vegetables here though, so I'm trying that out.

Another potential hazard in growing vegetables unfenced out in the vineyard, which is farther from the village than my fenced garden plots, is rabbits. Most people fence their gardens because you pretty much can't grow stuff without it because of rabbits. Knowing this I chose to plant crops in the vineyard I thought would be of less interest to the bunnies—onions, cucumbers, squash, and strawberries. I quickly discovered that rabbits will make due with whatever is available, as long as it's planted by humans. They won't touch all the lush grass and other weeds, aside from maybe clover (which I planted as well), but they love whatever it is I plant out there. If they get in the garden, their favorite thing to eat is edamame, or soy beans, and so they never get around to the rest of the stuff, though depending on the time of year they also love beets, carrots, sweet potatoes, and other beans. Given the choice though, soy beans are their favorite. However, when I planted out in the vineyard I found they would eat some crops I'd never seen them eat before, like onions and strawberries. This was totally unexpected, especially the onions, since they are such a strong flavored crop.
Organic fireroasted salsa, tomato cucumber salad, tamales from local corn, and homemade organic
feta cheese over taco-seasoned ground rabbit.  They eat my crops, I eat them.
My solution was to put bird netting over the young crop and hope that eventually they would outgrow the rabbits. This worked for the onions but not for the strawberries. The squash and cukes never got any visible damage, but I'd learned to cover them with the netting by the time they were planted. Once these got to a significant size and I removed the netting, they were off to the races. I now have a huge crop of giant onions, more pickling cukes than I know what to do with, and I expect to have hundreds of pounds of winter squash.

This has been an unusual year as well in that we've gotten plenty of rain, and the insect pests we usually get (aside from cabbage loopers) have been all but absent. Cucumber beetles are nowhere to be seen as are squash bugs. This also could be the result of planting in a new area. You usually get one year in any new place before the cucumber beetles find the crop and kill it quickly by spreading bacterial wilt. I think most of the difference this season is the result of the cold winter killing off some of the pests.

Now I'm in the part of the season where I'm overwhelmed with the harvest. If there were a bigger market here, or this hadn't been such a productive season (or I had a couple pigs), I wouldn't have to worry about canning all the excess, which is what I'm spending a lot of time doing now.

1 comment:

Elastigirl said...

I love reading these updates! Please keep 'em coming!